April Fool's Day origins explainer: Why do we perform tricks on each other on 1 April?

There are a number of potential stories that outline where the tradition started 

Sunday 01 April 2018 12:08
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What is April Fool's Day and what are its origins?

There are various stories surrounding the origin of April Fool's Day and it is hard to be certain about the truth.

One popular tale dates the tradition to 1564, when France formally changed its calendar to the modern Gregorian version, and thereby moved the celebration of the New Year from the last week of March to 1 January.

In this version of events, those who continued to celebrate the end of New Year's Week on 1 April were derided as fools.

There are multiple other stories including that the modern version is a mutated variant of a number of predecessors.

In ancient Rome, for instance, the Hilaria festival celebrated the resurrection of a demigod with the donning of disguises; and the medieval Feast of Fools, wherein a Lord of Misrule was elected to parody Christian rituals, endured centuries of church censorship.

There is also a British legend, which places the festival's origin in the Nottinghamshire town of Gotham.

The story goes that in the 13th century, the town's residents heard that King John could claim any road on which he stepped as his property and so they accordingly refused the monarch entry.

When his soldiers arrived to force their way in, the residents of Gotham pretended to be lunatics, and King John decided that their madness meant that the punishment that would have otherwise been meted out would be inappropriate.

According to this story, April Fool's Day celebrates their sneakiness.

It is also unknown exactly why the tradition expires at noon but the source of Britain's deadline might be the 17th century's well-named Shig-Shag day, when celebrants put oak sprigs in their hats to show loyalty to the monarchy, in reference to Charles II's hiding in an oak tree.

Those who failed to observe the custom could only be ridiculed until midday.

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